What’s the plantar fascia and why is it important?
If we were to rate the most common running foot injuries that we see in our clinic, plantar fascia related injuries would definitely top the list. The plantar fascia (PF) is a thick, weblike ligament that connects your heel to the front of the foot. It acts as a shock absorber (much like a spring) and is one of the main structures that supports the arch of your foot, helping you run and walk.
Even if you’ve never experienced a nasty foot injury, you will undoubtedly benefit from foot strengthening exercises to prevent foot related injuries from occurring. Plantar fasciitis is one injury you should definitely try to avoid.
I’m interested, tell me how to strengthen my plantar fascia!
To effectively strengthen the PF you will need to start slowly and build up by adding load to your body as you progress. Here are the steps to set up for the exercise:
- Use a towel and roll it up to roughly the size of a rolling pin
- Place the towel on a step, stairway or similar location
- Place all five toes over the towel (the ball of your foot should not be on the towel)
- Lift your heels up slowly (3 secs), pause at the top for 2 secs and lower down slowly (3 secs) – this equals 1 repetition (rep)
Avoid doing too much too soon, stick to the plan!
Whether you’re a seasoned runner or not, it’s important that you progress slowly through the plan outlined below and only do the exercise every second day to avoid doing unnecessary damage to the PF.
1. Beginner (double leg heel raise):
- (3 sets of 12 reps) do this for 1 week or until it gets easy
- (5 sets of 8 reps) Add weights such as books to a backpack. Start off with 1 kg and increase to 10 kg over a period of 1-2 weeks.
2. Intermediate (single leg heel raise with no extra weights):
- 3 sets of 12 reps
- Repeat on the other foot.
3. Advanced (single heel raise with extra weights):
- (5 sets of 5 reps) Add weights such as books to a backpack. Start off with 1 kg and slowly increase to 10 kg
Make sure you only move through to the next progression when you feel strong enough. If you experience pain then it’s likely you’ve overdone it. If this is the case then return to the previous progression.
The bonus of this strengthening exercise is that it doesn’t just target the plantar fascia, you’ll find that your posterior muscles groups (calves, hamstrings and glutes) are strengthened as well. Greater strength in these muscles provide greater support for each other and the tendons/joints in the lower leg and feet.
Our feet often get left out of many running strengthening programs. It’s only when we experience foot pain and injury that we pay any attention to it. So if you want to stay ahead of the game and avoid unnecessary time away from doing what you love, give your plantar fascia the attention it deserves.